IT – take it or leave it?

In the interest of getting some conversation going around the state of IT today and where current/future leaders might be taking it tomorrow, I thought I’d wade into intentionally provocative waters for this post and ask, “Could we do without IT?”

After all, the rest of the business is broken out along functional lines: HR, marketing, operations, customer service, product development, sales, legal. Why do we take a group of folks who perform some of these functions and put them all together in a separate organization? Sure, they all (more or less) work with technology, but is that a good enough reason to quarantine them away from the business? To keep them one-step further removed from the customers?

I can imagine an organization where many of the folks we currently group into IT could be released back into the wild and located with their functional business counterparts or as distinct functional areas in their own right: network ops with operations; web and application development with product development, sales, and marketing; business analysis as part of the business process engineering or redesign group; project management, quality, and enterprise architecture as distinct, enterprise level departments; and so on.

Of course there would be some things to overcome with this arrangement. Managing the enterprise technology portfolio across multiple owners would be made more difficult; procurement and vendor relations would be more challenging; and the initial culture clash between technologists and their business counterparts would be significant.

But the thing to consider is whether these would be easier to overcome than the issues we have with the current arrangement, such as aligning IT with the business, getting technologists to “speak business”, and finding ways for IT to deliver business value consistently. I think they might be.

But even if they weren’t, if we could enable technology to deliver business value more often than not, or develop technologists who had a deep understanding of the business, wouldn’t that be worth some inefficiencies in procurement, overlap in licenses and maintenance fees, or initial culture clashes? Again, I think it might be.

In the end, what I’m wondering out loud here is whether IT is just a more complex version of the old stenographers pool, split out into their own department because they had the mastery of a technology/skill that the rest of the business didn’t yet have? Or is there something fundamentally different about the work done in IT that it needs to be kept separate from the rest of the organization?

No answers here, just provocation. But as I write this, I’m struck by how natural the idea of a distinct IT department feels and how strange it seems to even consider it in any other light–usually a good sign that you’ve found an assumption whose time has come to be called into question…even if only to be reaffirmed at the end of the process.

Thoughts?

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5 Responses

  1. This is totally off topic but funny. “How many computer programmers does it take to screw in a light bulb? None… that is a hardware problem.”

    I love your blog Joe! 🙂

  2. IT is separate now, like a tumor in a body. It makes the business sick, but as long as the sickness is contained the body can continue to live. What you are talking about is metastatic IT, which would infect all the functional areas and choke off life.

    Just kidding.

  3. IT departments take it on the chin for many project failings. However, there are many stories that point to the reasons ‘why’. Like you say, Joe, it’s not an easy problem to solve.

    We linked to your blog and post because we like it so!

    http://malahat.squarespace.com/blog/2010/6/11/will-business-and-it-ever-align.html

    Cheers,
    Tom

  4. Thanks for the kind words, Tom, and for the link–I appreciate it!

    Cheers,

    Joe

  5. Well I was hoping for a little more comment than that. Such as a comparison to the roles lawyers fulfill in corporations. You have to meet a certain size before it makes sense economically to bring them in-house. And some businesses will have in-house legal for some issues, and then other departments where lawyers are working at things like claims and risk for insurance companies, outside the in-house legal dept, but within the same company. anyone… anyone…

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